A Worrying Trend Emerges in South America, As Right-Wing Populists Take A Leaf Out of Trump and Netanyahu’s Playbook

If the elected leaders of long-established democracies like the US and Israel can question the workings of their electoral system, why can’t others of less-established ones? 

Exactly one month has passed since 17.4 million Peruvians cast their ballot in the country’s run-off presidential elections. But the country still has no president. The losing candidate, Keiko Fujimori, a former congresswoman and daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, has refused to concede, claiming that her opponent Pedro Castillo’s party, Peru Libre, committed voter fraud. And now it transpires that Peru’s version of Rasputin is back: a recent investigation revealed that Vladimir Montesinos, a former long-standing head of Peru’s intelligence service who is in jail for crimes against humanity, has been pulling strings from behind the scenes (and behind bars) to try to get Fujimori proclaimed victor.

But it doesn’t appear to be working — at least not if the intended goal is to win the election for Fujimori. Her team’s legal challenges have so far led nowhere. A call by former high-ranking military officers for a military coup has also failed. Peru’s National Elections Jury (JNE) has dismissed all of Fujimori’s campaign’s appeals against the electoral outcome. International observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union (EU), among others, have ruled out any irregularities. And the United States and European Union have publicly praised the electoral process. 

But the endless succession of appeals serve another purpose: they buy Fujimori time. And time is something she desperately needs rights now. If she doesn’t win this election, she will probably end up back behind bars, like her father and “Tio” Montesinos. Perhaps even more importantly, the ongoing legal challenges help to cement and normalise the idea among a large section of Peru’s population, particularly in the capital, Lima, that Castillo won the election through fraudulent means, despite all the evidence to the contrary. One recent poll showed that 31% of Peruvians thought the claims were credible.

“Rasputin” Is Back

Ironically, the only side that has actually been caught committing fraud so far is the Fujimori campaign. In recent days recordings have been leaked of telephone conversations between Montesinos, who is widely regarded as the power behind the throne in President Alberto Fujimori’s government, which ruled Peru from 1990 to 2000, and a former military commander discussing bribing three members of the National Electoral Tribunal (JNE) to secure Keiko’s victory. But the plan didn’t pan out.

“If we had done things the way we had initially proposed, we wouldn’t be in this shitty situation,” says Montesinos in one of the recordings. “They [Keiko’s campaign team] can’t do anything now. I’m just trying to help, because if they don’t win, they are screwed: the girl (Keiko) will end up in jail and the other man (her father, Alberto) will die where he is (also in jail). That is the situation.”

When it comes to bribing officials, Montesinos — who is sometimes referred to as Alberto Fujimori’s “Rasputin” — has form.

In 2000, secret videos recorded by Montesinos himself came to light showing him bribing elected congressmen into leaving the opposition and joining the pro-Fujimori group in Congress. Six years later, he was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for crimes against humanity. He was also found guilty of operating a vast web of illegal activities, including embezzlement, graft, gunrunning, and drug trafficking. In 2016 he received an additional 22 years of prison time for the forced disappearance of a professor and two students in 1993. They were among thousands who were forcibly disappeared during Peru’s internal conflict (1980-2000).

Now, Montesinos is hatching plots from behind bars. While it is unlikely that he will be able to actually get Castillo’s narrow electoral victory overturned, the longer he and the Fujimoris can delay Castillo’s inauguration, the more difficult it will be for Castillo’s government to govern once it does take power.  

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